Joe Nelson, The (San Bernardino County) Sun
Created: 09/12/2011 02:21:30 PM PDT

From our archive: Grand Jury questions management practices at San Bernardino airport

San Bernardino County supervisors apparently agree with the Grand Jury that their benefits are excessive but disagree that a conflict was created when the Treasurer-Tax Collector’s and Auditor-Controller’s offices were merged in 2010.

Overly generous benefits packages and potential conflicts of interest were among the highlights of the Grand Jury’s findings in its annual report released on July 1.

While agreeing that retirement plans, benefit packages and vehicle allowances for supervisors were excessive, the Board of Supervisors, in a proposed response to the Grand Jury, notes that it unanimously voted to reduce retirement and health care benefits for board members and other elected county officials in June 2009.

In addition, Supervisor Neil Derry has refused the higher level benefits since taking office in December 2008, according to the proposed response, which is expected to be adopted today.

The board also notes that in 2010 each board member declined a 1.18 percent salary increase allowed by a voter-approved amendment to the county charter, and that each board member also waived a 7 percent retirement pickup to match the reduction imposed on exempt employees and agreed upon by some labor unions.

In its report, the Grand Jury found that one supervisor’s annual retirement benefits exceed $85,000, and that Board of Supervisors’ annual benefit packages range from the highest (1st District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt) at $158,403 to the lowest (3rd District Supervisor Neil Derry) at $99,304.

In addition, the Grand Jury found that, when compared to San Diego, Riverside and Ventura counties, employees’ vehicle allowance was excessive.

The Grand Jury recommended that car allowances for supervisors follow federal guidelines, and that the county should continue efforts to adjust the salary and benefit ratios for supervisors.

The board notes in its proposed response that the county will address the car allowance issue after it considers adjusting supervisors’ salaries and benefits. It has not established a timeframe for implementation.

The Grand Jury also found problematic the board’s approval of a merger of the Treasurer-Tax Collector’s and Auditor-Controller’s offices in early 2010, which the Grand Jury felt created a potential conflict and potentially tainted the autonomy and objectivity of the county’s audit function.

The board maintains that state law allows the conjoining of county controller and auditor offices, and that the auditor-controller is not the county’s chief financial officer.

“The county disagrees that a conflict was created when the Board of Supervisors created the office of Auditor-Controller/Treasurer/Tax Collector,” according to the board’s proposed Grand Jury response.

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